Kicking Off Richardson’s Innovation District
Butterflies in our stomachs, we watched our newly painted Better Block in a Box being dropped at its very first placemaking location in Richardson, Texas. The project was held in mid-June behind an unused warehouse on East Collins Boulevard.
If you had stood there any other day, at the back corner of a one-story warehouse and looked out at the tiny dip of a creek passing through similarly plain buildings on each side, you probably wouldn’t think too much of it. Who would want to spend their afternoon in a warehouse district?
Perhaps with the right elements, a lot of people.
The 1,200-acre area, generally bounded by Central Expressway, Campbell Road, Plano Road, and Apollo Road, was identified as an opportunity zone in the City of Richardson’s Comprehensive Plan recommendations in 2009. Since then, the city has conducted a Vision Study that sought input from a series of community meetings, pop-up workshops, and other engagements to lay the groundwork for the transformation. Ultimately, Richardson has developed a vision for the District to be “the premier tech hub in Texas,” according to the city’s Development Services.
To achieve this vision, the Richardson is focusing on creating a district that can attract new businesses and support existing ones in a space that is aesthetically unique, walkable/bikeable, and full of greenery as summarized in the Collins/Arapaho TOD & Innovation District Study. To kick off the rezoning of the Collins/Arapaho Transit-Oriented Development and Innovation District, Richardson brought in the Better Block in a Box to perform the area’s first reactivation.
We wanted to focus on creating a space of leisure that took full advantage of the site’s natural assets, starting with the creek that runs between the back of the buildings. Duck Creek is a small, clear stream of running water that is set between two grassy edges with slight grades. To emphasize this natural asset, we placed café seating under umbrellas along the creek, adorned by potted plants and small red oaks for shade.
To energize the area, we added some fun elements such as colorful murals around the building and bright yellow hammocks to lounge in near the creek.
To connect the neighboring offices, we took an afternoon and built bridges across the stream. Then we watched people trickle across them during their lunch break into the newly activated space. They carried lunches from the food trucks parked along the building to lounge in café seats along the creek or sat near the live band on the Wikiblock tables from our new Better Block in a Box. During the event, many of these local stakeholders participated in demonstrations and gave feedback to the city planners on their thoughts about what the Innovation District can become.
Seeing Duck Creek activated through a pop-up park provided a visual sense of opportunity for the area, encouraging more creative and people-oriented development for the corridor’s future. The City of Richardson is currently working on amending zoning entitlements in the Innovation District to promote the type of growth they foresee.
“Through the zoning initiative we’ll be able to provide an additional layer of flexibility for property owners to make improvements to their buildings… it’s also a way for us to really promote and brand the district to bring new businesses into the city,” said Doug McDonald, planning projects manager for the City of Richardson in an interview with Richardson Today.
It was thrilling watching professionals from all trades meet up in this space. Rather than walking around a dismal parking lot or driving out for lunch, people came together to be in their neighbor’s company and enjoy the natural assets of their work district. By implementing Richardson’s vision, the city will likely not only attract new professionals, but it can engage and keep its current businesses by developing a sense of pride and identity through placemaking.